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new era The inside story on a week of chaos at Newcastle and what happens next

New owners need to cut through the noise of competing voices in the court of St James’ Park

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Newcastle fans pictured celebrating the Saudi-backed consortium takeover of the club (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Newcastle fans pictured celebrating the Saudi-backed consortium takeover of the club (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Newcastle fans pictured celebrating the Saudi-backed consortium takeover of the club (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“It is chaos, complete and utter chaos,” was how one well-placed observer described Newcastle United’s first week under their new owners.

Like with most revolutions, the first few days have been the most volatile, confused and unpredictable. It is why Steve Bruce has still not been sacked as manager, and why he now increasingly seems likely to be in the dugout for the first game of the new era against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

Yet Newcastle’s takeover has its own peculiar complications, most obviously the fact that there are three strands to the consortium – Amanda Staveley, Jamie Reuben and, most significantly, the Public Investment Fund (PIF). All have their own ideas and advisers, who are all jostling for position.

Throw in the fact that the takeover actually happened in breathless fashion, after 18 months of deadlock, allowing little time for detailed planning, and it is no wonder things feel dysfunctional.

What the first seven days of the new era has taught us is that while Staveley may be the public face of the consortium, the power and control is firmly in the hands of Saudi Arabia’s PIF and the club’s chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who is based in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital.

It is understood that while PIF, which owns 80pc of Newcastle’s shares, initially wanted to fade into the background, largely in order to manage expectations, it is keeping a watchful eye on everything.

It intends to be an active investor rather than passive money provider and every decision is being questioned, scrutinised and then effectively decided by PIF.

Staveley, as well as Reuben, the other non-executive director, is effectively on trial.

Their new jobs are exciting and very visible, but they have begun with a probation period.

The Saudis want to assess them and gauge whether they are capable of delivering what they want in terms of running the club on a day-to-day basis on their behalf.

There is no sense of division or animosity, even if the huge variety of names being linked to jobs as manager, sporting director and chief executive is mainly down to the fact they all have different candidates in mind.

The new regime is trying to do things the right way, seeking advice from those with more detailed knowledge of English football, and the hope must be that things will settle down, as they did with Manchester City when they were taken over by their oil-rich state backers more than a decade ago.

That situation was, as one source said, “exactly the same” as Newcastle are going through.

“There is no need to worry,” they added. “Things will settle down once they have the right people in place in the senior management roles.”

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In the meantime, the challenge for the new owners is to cut through the noise of the competing voices in the court of St James’ Park. If they do not, there is a serious danger of conflicting messages being issued.

Bruce’s future has been a case in point. The manager’s impending departure had been widely expected last week because people connected to the consortium believed it to be true: that message, however, began to be retracted at the start of this week.

When Staveley and her husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, met Bruce at the training ground for the first time on Monday, the prospect of him losing his job was not mentioned. They did not talk about wanting to replace him, but rather thanked him for the job he had done for the past two years on keeping Newcastle in the Premier League and the way he had talked about the takeover for the past 18 months.

It is believed that the Saudis remain unconvinced by the notion of sacking Bruce – despite his unpopularity with supporters – when no long-term replacement has been lined up. Indeed, PIF seems to appreciate the job Bruce has done and wants to show him respect.

After that Monday meeting, Bruce was told he would hear back from the board in the next 24 hours.

He has not been told anything because nobody knew what the final decision from the Saudis was.

The first person Bruce heard from yesterday was the club’s press officers telling him his press conference for the Spurs game had been moved back to this afternoon rather than its usual morning slot.

By yesterday evening, there was still no word, so the prospects of Bruce reaching his 1,000th game as a manager on Sunday have now gone from remote to probable – not least because the Saudi weekend begins today, and it is unusual for important business to be conducted then.

Sacking Bruce with less than 48 hours to go until a match would also cause even more disruption to the team. The mood at training on Wednesday had deteriorated. The players lacked focus, unsure if Bruce still had authority over them.

Staff members, worried about their job security, were increasingly downbeat. Bruce has tried to smile through it, but his irritation has also increased the longer the uncertainty has gone on.

It is almost impossible to believe Bruce will still be there when the January window opens, and one scenario which is gaining traction is the appointment of an interim manager, but nothing is
certain.

From the chaos will come order, but until then, Newcastle supporters may just have to adjust to this frantic new reality.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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